Trending News Today: Debunking the HIV Patient Zero Theory

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

Could a parasitic hookworm help cure asthma and autoimmune diseases? According to The Washington Post, findings from a recent study show that a protein produced by the bloodsucking hookworms helped ease the symptoms of asthma in mice, which in the future could potentially be put into pill form to treat humans. Researchers also infected 12 adults with celiac disease with the hookworm, finding that the parasite improved their gluten tolerance. However, since it’s difficult to find patients willing to be infected with a parasite for research, scientists isolated the active ingredient in hookworm spit, AIP-2, and injected it into asthmatic mice daily over 5 days. The results of the study showed that the asthma symptoms substantially declined, and their airways became measurably less inflamed. The effects continued for 10 weeks after the mice stopped receiving treatment. Furthermore, researchers found that AIP-2 appeared to have a calming effect on the body’s dendritic cells, which suggests that AIP-2 could potentially help humans as well, reported the Post. Authors noted that the next step in the process is a phase 1 clinical trial that would test the efficacy of an AIP-2 pill.

Despite months of intensive work, public health authorities and infectious disease specialists are now saying that it may not be possible to completely rid the United States of the Zika virus, reported NPR. The biggest challenge controlling Zika is the mosquito that carries it. According to NPR, Aedes aegypti mosquitos have lived in proximity to people for centuries. But now they have adapted and hide in closets, under tables, and in foliage; all places where spraying doesn’t often hit. In Florida, the CDC has upgraded its Zika-related health advisory, stating that there’s a risk of local transmission in all of Miami-Dade Country. They are advising pregnant women to steer clear of these areas. The CDC noted in a statement that Zika is well on its way to becoming an endemic disease, meaning it may be here to stay, despite their best efforts, reported NPR.

It’s been accepted as gospel that Gaetan Dugas, also known as Patient Zero, brought the AIDS virus to New York in 1979, triggering the epidemic in North America. However, researchers are now arguing that this mythology is bogus, reported The Washington Post. The young flight attendant was presumed to have become infected abroad, and then unwittingly gave it to some of his sexual partners, who in turn passed it on to their partners until the whole continent was full of clusters of people dying from this disease. In a new study published in Nature, researchers were able to debunk many common beliefs by using genomic sequencing of blood samples from that time period, so they could go back in time and reconstruct a “family tree” of the virus in unprecedented detail, according to the Post. The findings were able to confirm the controversial theory that the virus crossed over from the Caribbean, instead of going from the United States to the Caribbean. Furthermore, the initial outbreak was found to be in New York City, and not San Francisco. Importantly, researchers were able to determine that the AIDS virus appeared to have been circulating the United States border for much longer than previously believed. When researchers separately sequenced the virus found in Patient Zero, they discovered that his HIV-1 genome appeared to be typical of the United States strains at the time, and there were extensive genetic diversity around the time he was infected, reported the Post. Researchers concluded that there is neither biological nor historical evidence that shows Dubas was the primary cause of the HIV epidemic.